Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on August 8, 2011

Do STDs cause urethritis? What is urethritis? How do you get it? How do you cure it?

My husband started having discharge from his penis last week, and he thought I gave him an STD even though he’s been my only partner for the last two years. I went to the doctor and was tested for various diseases. All the tests were negative. The doctor gave me a shot of penicillin and four pills to take just in case my husband had something wrong. When my husband found out I was negative, he went to the ER and they diagnosed him with urethritis. They gave him a shot and a prescription and told him not to have sex for two weeks. The pharmacist said the medicine was for a bacterial infection of the urethra and that the ER should have been be more specific about whether they diagnosed him with an STD. What is urethritis? How do you get it?

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on August 8, 2011

You’ve asked some good questions in a confusing situation...I’ll try to help.

First, urethritis is an infection of the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body). Urethritis can be caused by virus or a bacteria, like E. coli...the same bacteria that causes urinary tract infections. Other bacteria that cause urethritis are those responsible for STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea. Viruses that can cause urethritis are in the herpes family, most notably herpes simplex virus (HSV).

So, urethritis isn’t necessarily caused by an STD...but it could be. From what you describe, your husband received a prescription to address a bacterial infection...but which bacterial infection is unclear and not all antibiotics work on all infections. That means your husband might have received the antibiotics to wipe out either E. coli, gonorrhea, chlamydia, or some combination of each...but maybe not.

For your peace of mind, I encourage you and your husband to get tested for some of the most common STDs...especially chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes, and including HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis.The ER probably didn’t test for STDs unless your husband specifically asked them to. And while it’s great that you got tested for various diseases, I encourage you to consider getting tested again for these STDs...and to stop sexual activity with your husband until you know the source of his infection and he has successfully completed treatment.

Getting tested for chlamydia is especially important for women because chlamydia symptoms are often silent (no symptoms)...and the disease can eventually cause serious problems like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility, if left untreated. But if chlamydia is diagnosed and treated in time, it’s easily treatable and curable.

Once you've been treated, you can be re-infected. If it turns out that you and/or your husband have chlamydia or gonorrhea, for exampleand unless both of you successfully complete treatment before resuming sexual activityit’s possible for either of you to become re-infected and keep passing the infection back and forth. That's why sexual partners should be tested and treated at the same time and avoid having sex until one week after treatment.

When you do have sex again, I encourage you to use latex condoms and dental dams to minimize the risk of re-infection.

I hope you’ll explore our Expert Guides to learn more about chlamydia and gonorrhea symptoms, complications, testing and treatment. And I wish you both the best of health.

Related info:

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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